ILCL - International Library of the Communist Left
[last] [home] [content] [end] [search]

«A Non-Exhaustive Euro-Hannic Transcription Engine»

English, French, German, and Chinese Romanisations of Chinese


Index:

English, French, German, and Chinese Romanisations of Chinese
Initials
Finals
Points for Confusion
The Remains of Earlier Conventions
Order of Elements in Personal Names and Word Division
Concrete Examples of Some Problems
Frequently asked Questions (FAQ)
Email


English, French, German and Chinese Romanisations of Chinese
[index] [next]

Writings in European languages that deal with China manifest as an immense collection of transcription systems differing both in space and over time. It is hoped that the information below will be of some aid, however modest, to comrades seeking to take decades-old documents in one of these languages and translate them into another, including in this process use of the transcription system -- Hanyu Pinyin -- which is now increasingly seen in all parts of the world where the Latin alphabet is the norm.

By convention, a syllable in the Hannic («Chinese») languages is regarded as consisting of the first consonant of the syllable (called the «initial»), plus the remaining vowel or vowel + consonant segment (called the «final»). On this basis then, «Mao Zedong» is divisible as follows:

m/ao  z/e  d/ong.

The following two tables present a list of most of the initials and finals of Putonghua ( =«Standard Chinese», «Pekinese», «Mandarin»), on which the romanisation systems are to a greater or lesser degree based, and from which tables can be seen the correspondences amongst them. The system EFEO (École français d'Extrême-Orient) is a transcription method once common in French. Lessing-Othmer was used in German. Beifangxua Latinxua Sin Wenz -- known by the acronym «Beila» (Northern Latinisation) -- was an intended auxiliary script in the 1930s-40s.

 

Initials
[prev.][index][next]
Pinyin Wade-Giles Lessing-Othmer EFEO Beifang Latinxua
Notes
p
p
b
 
p'
p'
p
 
d
 
t
t'
t
t'
t
 
g
k
g
k
g
 
k'
k
k'
k
 
h
h
h
x
 
ts
ds
ts
z
for Wade-Giles variation see FAQ question 2
ts'
ts
ts'
c
for Wade-Giles variation see FAQ question 2
s
s
s
s [sseu]
s
for Wade-Giles variation see FAQ question 2
zh
ch
dsch
tch
zh
 
ch
ch'
tsch
tch'
ch
 
sh
sh
sch
ch
sh
 
r
j
j
j
rh
 
ch 
dj 
k,ts 
g,z
 
ch'
tj
k',ts'
k,c
 
hs
hs
s,h
x,s
 
m
m
m
m
m
 
f
f
f
f
f
 
l
l
l
l
l
 
n
n
n
n
n
 
v - not used
w
u,w
ou,w
u,w
(L-O & EFEO convention unclear)
y
y
i,y
i,y
i,j
(L-O & EFEO convention unclear)


 

 
Finals
[prev.][index][next]
Pinyin Wade-Giles Lessing-Othmer EFEO Beifang Latinxua
Notes
o
o
o
o
o
 
o,ê
ö
ö,é
o,e
 
er
êrh
örl
eul
r
 
i
û
e [?]
eu
(none)
(after Pinyin z, c, or s)
i
ih
e [?]
(none)
(after Pinyin zh, ch, sh, or r)
i
i
i
i
i
(after Pinyin any other letter)
ü
ü
y
(after Pinyin y, j, q, or x)
u
u
u
ou
u
(after Pinyin any other letter)
ai
ai
ai
ai
ai
 
ei
ei
ei [?]
ei
ei
 
ao
ao
au
ao
ao
 
ou
ou
ou
eou
ou
 
an
an
an
an
an
 
ang
ang
ang
ang
ang
 
en
ên
ën
en
en
 
eng
êng
ëng
eng
eng
EFEO sometimes -ong after a labial
ia
ia
ia
ia
ia
 
ie
ieh
ie
ie
 
iao
iao
iau
iao
iao
 
iu
iu
iou
ieou, iou
iu
 
ian
ien
ian
ien
ian
 
in
in
in 
in
in
 
iang
iang
iang
iang
iang
 
ing
ing
ing
ing
ing
 
ua
ua
ua
ua
ua
 
uo
uo,o
uo
ouo
uo,o
 
uai
uai
uai
ouai
uai
 
ui
ui
ui
ouei
ui
 
uan
uan
uan
ouan 
uan
 
un
un
un
ouen
un
 
uang
uang
uang
ouang 
uang
 
ong
ung
ung
oung
ung
 
ue
üeh 
üa
iue
ye,yo
(after Pinyin y, j, q, or x)
uan
üan 
üan 
iuen
yan
(after Pinyin y, j, q, or x)
un
ün
ün
iun
yn
(after Pinyin y, j, q, or x)
iong
iung
iung
ioung 
yng
 


 

Points for Confusion
[prev.] [index] [next]

Pinyin writes the sounds i (or ü) and u at the beginning of a syllable as y and w. Actually, since they are not consonants (and not necessarily even real semi-vowels) they are initials only in a graphological sense, and for this reason they are known as «zero-initials». Rather than being the «true spellings», the finals -iu and -ui are contractions of -iou and -uei. Only when the first letter is y or w does the «deep» spelling re-emerge: so, despite their different appearance, the syllables you, diu, liu all contain the same final (-iou), just as wei, dui, rui all contain -uei. The spellings yiu and wui do not exist. Pinyin has both u and ü, but since only ü and not u can occur directly after the letters y, j, q ,or x, the hatless u in syllables such as xu, yu, xue etc., is automatically ü. It is only when preceded by n or l (the only letters after which both ü and u are possible) that an applicable umlaut cannot be dropped. There is an unofficial convention according to which ü after n and l can be written -yu, resulting in nyu and lyu instead of and , but it is seldom followed, and the four possible syllables -- nu, lu, and -- usually end up conflated, appearing simply as nu and lu.

As for Wade-Giles, in non-academic usage, all apostrophes, umlauts and other diacritical marks are lost from its spellings, and attempts to transliterate this deformed Wade-Giles into other systems can have deleterious consequences.

 

The Remains of Earlier Conventions
[prev.] [index] [next]

Traditional Anglo-Saxon usage includes the following toponyms which are an inheritance of the eclectic «Postal System», which includes: (1) pre-Wade systems such as that of Morrison, and (2) not a different spelling of Pekinese but forms based on pronunciations of local languages:

 

(1)
[prev.][index][next]
Postal Pinyin Notes
Peking Beijing  
Nanking Nanjing  
Chungking Chongqing  
Kiangsu Jiangsu  
Tsingtao Qingdao  
Chekiang  Zhejiang  
Szechuan Sichuan  
Sinkiang Xinjiang [«Chinese Turkistan», «Eastern Turkistan»]
Tientsin Tianjin  
Hangchow Hangzhou  
Sian Xi'an  
Shansi Shanxi  
Shensi Shaanxi  
Tseki Ciqi  
Foochow Fuzhou  
Keelung Jilong  

 

 

(2)
[prev.][index][next]
Postal Pinyin Notes
Amoy Xiamen  
Quemoy Jinmen  
Hokkien Fujian  
Hokien Fujian  
Fukien Fujian  
Kongmoon Jiangmen  
Canton Guangzhou actually an early French spelling of 'Guangdong'
Pakhoi Beihai  
Pokpak Bobai  
Shiukwan  Shaoguan  
Swatow Shantou  
Jehol Rehe  
Mukden Shenyang  

In the case of the first situation, there are some predictable matches to Pinyin:

-peh to Pinyin -bei
-ow to Pinyin -ou
-oo to Pinyin -u
-ee to Pinyin -i
k- and ts- if followed by the letter 'i', to Pinyin j- or q-
the syllable sze to Pinyin si
the syllable tse to Pinyin zi or ci

Names of certain books/philosphical schools were also sometimes written in the above manner - Lao Tse [Laozi], Chuang Tse [Zhuangzi], etc.

Hong Kong (Xianggang) and Macau (Aomen) belong in the 2nd category, but in European languages are almost never pinyinised.

Correspondingly earlier layers of transcription (i.e. earlier than EFEO and Lessing-Othmer) no doubt also exist for French and German as well as other languages (eg French «Pekin», Italian «Pechino», Portuguese «Pequim»). Information concerning this is welcome.

Order of Elements in Personal Names and Word Division
[prev.] [index] [next]

As in Hungarian and Japanese, the family name precedes the given name. Unlike the case of Hungarian or Japanese, this same order is usually retained in translation into western European languages. Discounting differences of transcription, the following conventions have been seen for division of personal names::

  1. Mao Zedong
  2. Mao Ze-dong
  3. Mao Ze Dong
  4. Mao-Ze-Dong
  5. Mao ZeDong
The first is the mandated form for Pinyin usage, and is recommended. The second is the mandated form for Wade-Giles usage. The third sometimes appears in English language journalism in some areas of the world. The fourth is or was frequent in French. The fifth is a recent internet fashion.

Two of the better known names from recent history are (in English usage) Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. Both of these are based on Cantonese; in Pinyinised Putonghua they are «Sun Yixian» and «Jiang Jieshi». Sun Yat-sen had several names; to his admirers he is Sun Zhongshan (or, in GMD-Taiwan, where he is an Atatürk figure, «Guofu» [State-father]); to non-admirers he is «Sun Wen», his name at birth. Likewise, «Jiang Zhongzheng» (adopted after entering politics) is a more admiring name for Chiang Kai-shek than is «Jiang Jieshi» - and thus to be avoided.

Since «Chiang Kai-shek» and «Sun Yat-sen» (and the other European forms thereof) already possess a high degree of recognition, whether or not they ought to be pinyinised is a moot point.

Note that the Sunist «Nationalist Party» (Kuo-Min-Tang/KMT) is to be written as one word - Guomindang/GMD.

Concrete Examples of Some Problems
[prev.] [index] [next]

In some parts of «Le Tigre de Papier - Sur le Développement du Capitalisme en Chine 1949-1971» (editions Spartakus), particularly those sections reprinted from «Bilan» or translated from English, are found certain EFEO (and Pinyin) anomalies. Some of these seem to be the product of transliterating from misunderstood or degenerate Wade-Giles into EFEO; others are simply inexplicable.

Original Wade-Giles Pinyin
Tsou-Fou Ssû-fu [Liu] Sifu (or Shifu)
Tsiou Tsiou-Bo Ch'ü Ch'iu-po/pai Qu Qiubai
Jen-Min-Dji-Pao Jen-Min Jih-Pao Renmin Ribao
Wan Tin-Wei Wang Ching-wei Wang Jingwei
Youan Tchi-Kay Yüan Shih-kai Yuan Shikai
Tchen Du-Siou Ch'en Tu-hsiu Chen Duxiu
Kiang-Kan-Hu Chiang K'ang-hu Jiang Kanghu
Kian-Kan-Hu  Chiang K'ang-hu Jiang Kanghu
Zhu Enlai Chou En-lai Zhou Enlai

Some of the information presented above, especially with regard to Lessing-Othmer, no doubt contains error. Correction is solicited, as well as information about any pre-Pinyin system that may have been used in Italian.

Frequently asked Questions (FAQ)
[prev.] [index] [next]

I want to see IPA, the russian system
Are There more romanisations?
Why do I sometimes see tzu tz'u and szu and other times tsû, ts'û, and ssû?
What's Peiping?
Surnames are sometimes written entirely in upper-case letters. Why?
What is the main obstacle to cross-transliterations among the systems?
What about tones?
What's the difference between latinisation and romanization?
What's used in Taiwan?
Isn't it a fact that Pinyin is based on Russian Cyrillic transliteration, particularly its c, zh and x?
Isn't it true that Pinyin letter-use defies international convention?
But I consider Wade-Giles [or EFEO ... etc.] elegant. I can't even guess how Pinyin spelling are pronounced.
What do Putonghua, Pinyin, Chinese, Mandarin... mean?
Why do the systems all look so different?

Q: I want to see IPA, the Russian system ....
A: Click here

Q: Are There more romanisations?
A: Many. Since the early 1600s, when Jesuits did the first romanisations  -- the first three of which used the now much politicised x to represent what Pinyin has as sh -- there have been over 35 done by persons from either side of Euro-Asia, and that does not include romanisations for Cantonese and the various «dialects». There's also a very interesting Russian system of transcription in current use, but that of course is a cyrillicisation, not a romanisation. Three romanisations worth mentioning not found in the above tables are Gwoyeu Romatzyh, Yale, and Bortone-Allegra. Gwoyeu Romatzyh [«Guoyu Luomazi» in Pinyin], or «GR», uses letters to indicate tone. Before it became reduced to an instrument of mere pedagogy in certain anglophone countries, it was at one time promoted as alphabetic auxiliary script to the hanographs, resulting in a battle between it and the similarly intended Beila. The Peking-centric and tonographic GR was said to be «right-wing»; the more broadly based and non-tonographic Beila was said to be «left-wing» --  not really appropriate characterisations. The Yale System was devised for the US military, and later used for more general language instruction. Its letter-use is transparently based on North American English; for example the syllables that appear in Pinyin as zhi chi shi zi ci si are written in the Yale system as jr chr shr dz ts sz. Bortone-Allegra, even if it was never much used, is at least interesting as yet another nationally flavoured system, in this case Italian. It differentiates between aspirated and non-aspirated initials in this way: Pinyin b  p  g  k  d  t  =  Bortone-Allegra  p  pp  c  cc  t  tt. For -ng it uses -nh. Two examples: Pinyin «Zhongguo» [China] = Bortone-Allegra «Cjunh-cuo»; Pinyin «Xikang»  = Bortone-Allegra «Sci-ccanh».
[back]

Q: Why do I sometimes see tzu tz'u and szu and other times tsû, ts'û, and ssû?
A: The Pinyin syllables zi ci si appear in newer Wade-Giles as tzu tz'u and szu; in older Wade-Giles they are tsû, ts'û, and ssû. [back]

Q: What's Peiping?
A: Peip'ing (restoring its apostrophe) is Wade-Giles for Beiping, and Beiping is the same city as Beijing. In 1928 the GMD moved its capital to Nanjing and Beijing's name was changed. [back]

Q: Surnames are sometimes written entirely in upper-case letters. Why?
A: This is to disambiguate cases where order of surname and given name are reversed. So, no matter if written CHEN Cheng or Cheng CHEN, LI Dawei or Dawei LI, it is clear what is surname and what is not. [back]

Q: What is the main obstacle to cross-transliterations among the systems?
A: Where Wade-Giles is involved it is its loss of apostrophes and diacriticals. Taking an extreme example, there is no telling if such a name as Lu Tsu-chun is what it appears to be (thus in Pinyin, Lu Zuzhun) or if various attributes have been lost, such that in Pinyin it could variously be Lyu Zichun, Lyu Zujun, Lyu Cizhun, Lu Zuchun, Lu Ziqun etc. [back]

Q: What about tones?
A: Pekinese has four. In its uncompromised form -- rarely seen outside of dictionaries and pedagogy -- Pinyin respectively indicates them by means of the accents macron, accute, caron (or breve), and grave over the main vowel of a syllable.  Gwoyeu Romatzyh, as mentioned elsewhere, has a system whereby tone is built into the spelling itself.
[back]

Q: What's the difference between latinisation and romanization?
A: Pekinese has four. In its uncompromised form -- rarely seen outside of dictionaries and pedagogy -- Pinyin respectively indicates them by means of the accents macron, accute, caron (or breve), and grave over the main vowel of a syllable.  Gwoyeu Romatzyh, as mentioned elsewhere, has a system whereby tone is built into the spelling itself.
[back]

Q: What's used in Taiwan?
A: On the mainland, Hanyu Pinyin is used both «internally» (i.e. in primary school literacy, to  indicate pronunciation in dictionaries etc.) and «externally» (transcription of Han personal or place names into foreign languages). Taiwan on the other hand has continued GMD policy. For the internal aspect is used a set of quasi-hanographic phonetic symbols called Zhuyin Fuhao (also called Bopomofo) that came into being in 1913 and reached their now familiar form in the 1920s. For the external aspect there reigns an unpredictable mix of deformed Wade-Giles, Postal, ad-hoc spellings and (very rarely) some Gwoyeu Romatzyh. From 1928 to 1986 -- i.e. both on the mainland and in its Taiwan incarnation -- GR was the official but almost never used transcription system of the Republic of China. In 1986 it was officially replaced by Juyin II (a romanisation very similar to the Yale system despite the fact that it was claimed to be revision of  GR). Juyin II in turn was never heard of again until the late 90s when the government decided it should be used in place of Wade-Giles/Postal. In the new democratic atmosphere controversy ensued. Since then various decisions have been made -- often involving conflict between local and central government -- only to be overturned a short time later. Against Juyin II was proposed another system (called Tongyong Pinyin) of more 'international' design (i.e. closer to Hanyu Pinyin). This was followed by a period in which Juyin II lost support and the new battle lines were between  TP and Hanyu Pinyin. The Deputy Prime Minister told the press in August 1999 that HP would be adopted. No action was taken. Under the new non-GMD government, the Ministry of Education announced in early October 2000 the adoption of TP as official romanisation. The next day the decision was put on hold, and the matter has remained unclear. TP's differences from HP are as follows: HP zhi chi shi zi ci si ji qi xi = TP jhih chih shih zih cih sih ji ci si. IPA [y]  (ü) is everwhere written yu; HP ju qu xu n = TP jyu cyu nyu. After w- and f-, HP final -eng is written by TP as -ong. Given that Zhuyin Fuhao is to remain in place, it seems possible that TP (or HP) will become official but unseen, like GR and Juyin II before it. The transcription controversy in Taiwan is mostly limited to the question of what will be used on the «English» part of road-signs for the benefit of foreign tourists, and what the adoption of a particular transcription system might symbolise vis-a-vis relations with the mainland. An unrelated curiosity in Taiwan is the very high frequency with which a romanised surname is accompanied not by a romanised given name but by an English given name; this is a reflection of a Taiwan-style «internationalism» whose roots are to be explained by socio-linguistics under the aegis of historical materialism.
[back]

Q: Isn't it a fact that Pinyin -- especially its c, zh and x -- is based on Russian Cyrillic transliteration? Isn't it true that Pinyin letter-use wantonly defies international convention? .....  Isn't Pinyin just a capitalist spelling system??
A: A lot of Easter European languages written in the Latin alphabet use c for a ts sound. These languages are of course no more «based on Russian transliteration» than is the German name for the letter c, which is [tse]. Pinyin zh very simply derives from this mechanism: if an h is added to the Pinyin's dental sibilants z, c, or s, they become retroflexes. The Pinyin zh is thus no more Russian than the Pinyin ch or sh. The zh in Russian transliteration to English (Brezhnev) is a sound that doesn't exist in Chinese [«Mandarin»] and is totally unrelated to this. As for the Pinyin x, this sound is transcribed into Russian by Cyrillic c (= Roman s), not Cyrillic x (= Roman kh). These groundless charges were first propagated by the GMD's court-linguists at a time when it was important to link anti-«communism» to anti-Russianism. The second question is similar to the first. Behind it often lurks the anglo-chauvinist premise that transcription ought to be done on a basis found conventional to anglophones. International convention is by no means monolithic; consider the varied sound values given to c, j, q, s, tr, v, w, x, y, and z found in writing systems used by Hungarian, Polish, Croatian, Czech, Albanian, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Basque, Catalan, Portuguese, Norwegian, Turkish or Italian. It is no more reasonable to expect or demand that Pekinese be spelled in accordance with English convention than it would be to make the same demand of Italian, Turkish, or Vietnamese. In contrast to the above, a very different kind of objection to Hanyu Pinyin is found in a note at the beginning of «Bureaucratie, bagnes et business» (Hsi Hsuan-wou and Charles Reeve; editions L'insomniaque 1997). It says that the transcription used by the book is
inspired by that of the École français d'Extrême-Orient, which was common in France before sinology (maoist), the press (servile) and publishing (ignorant) lay down belly up before the linguist-bureaucrats of Peking. The transcription chosen over the official Pinyin [p'in-yin] has the appreciable advantage of being closer, for the francophone reader, to the pronunciation of Chinese. Of course, the Pinyin transcription is closer to English pronunciation [la phonétique anglo-américaine] and thus to the universal idiom in which commodities converse [l'idiome universal dans lequel conversent les marchandises]. That's not a reason to be resigned to it.
In its narrow concern with letter-use, and mediated (false) identity between a transcription system (Hanyu Pinyin) and a language (English), this attempt at nationally flavoured anarcho-marxist graphology manages to miss the one valid objection it could have made: Hanyu Pinyin is not just a transcription system; since coming into being in 1958, it has internally been a tool whereby a state-decreed pronunciation standard is imposed, identical in function to Zhuyin Fuhao. The authors having only superficial objections, it is not a surprise that their inspired transcription is simply a revision of EFEO spellings in accordance with this standard. Utterly compliant, it is nothing more than Hanyu Pinyin in French orthography..
[back]

Q: But I consider Wade-Giles [or EFEO ... etc.] elegant. I can't even guess how Pinyin spelling are pronounced.
A: One might consider Wade-Giles, EFEO, or the very succinct Beila, as preferable to Pinyin for this or that reason, but there is a practical need for an internationally used system, and such a function can not be fulfilled by any of the dusty objects found in the closets of different sinologists from the Euro-American countries, any more than by long-dead Beila. Hanyu Pinyin is more or less already established as this international system. What's important is that the same graphological form be preserved across linguistic frontiers. Unless trying to orally communicate in the language involved, «true» pronunciation is not that important. There may be many ideas of how the Albanian name «Hoxha» is pronounced, but fortunately English, French, and German don't give it three different spellings.
[back]

Q: What do Putonghua, Pinyin, Chinese, Mandarin... mean?

A: Here are some relevant morphemes:
guan- official  
-guo- state, country (regardless of monarchy, republic etc)
Han- Chinese  
Hua- Chinese  
-hua language (only spoken)
putong- general, common  
Qin   (Wade-Giles «Ch'in»; Beila «Cin»)
-ren person, -ese, etc.  
-wen language (especially written)
-yu language (especially spoken)
zhong- central, middle  
-zi grapheme, glyph  
-zu such and such an ethnicity, -ese  


China is Zhongguo, and as can be seen, could be put into the Latinate as 'Centralia'. Chinese (the language) is variously Hanyu, Hanwen, Huayu, Huawen, or Zhongwen. Persons of Chinese ethnicity are Hanzu, Hanren, Huaren, or Huazu. Citizens of China regardless of ethnicity (around 10% of the population are Tibetan, Uighur or some fifty other non-Han groups) are Zhongguoren. «Mandarin», a word derived from Sanskrit via Malay and then Portuguese, is Putonghua on the Mainland and Guoyu on Taiwan. Before 1911, and even now sometimes, it was called Guanhua -- a term which unlike «Mandarin» does not connote emperors, queues or other objects of chinoiserie. «Chinese characters» are Hanzi (same as the Japanese term Kanji and the Korean Hanja) -- for which we choose to use the neologism «hanographs» -- and in Taiwan they are often called Guozi. Pinyin means spelling, or alphabetisation. Its proper name is Hanyu Pinyin, since any alphabetic script (pinyin wenzi) for any language at all is a kind of pinyin. The word 'China' is supposedly ultimately derived via Sanskrit from Qin - the name of a mini-state then mega-state about 2000 years ago. Han, in turn is derived from the name of the mega-state (or if it is preferred, dynasty) that came after Qin. In Chinese, Qin is a historical term and never used to mean «China». In translation it can all become muddled; for example, when an advocate of formal Taiwan independence declares that he's a Huaren but not a Zhongguoren, it may end up in English as something along the lines of «I speak Chinese but I'm not Chinese»; similarly, when the PRC state is quoted as saying that Tibetans are «Chinese» it is claiming not that Tibetans are Hanren but that they are Zhongguoren. Naturally there are also those (Han chauvinists on the one hand, Tibetan or Uighur nationalists on the other) that use Zhongguoren as the name of an ethnicity, such that Zhongguoren = Hanren.  The point, however, is that in English etc, the only way that a two dimensional differentiation can be made is by referring to Hanren as «ethnic Chinese»; by this logic, Tibetans or Uighurs are presumably «non-ethnic Chinese» -- a cumbersome formulation. [back]

Q: Why do the systems all look so different?
A: Three reasons.

1) Even when the latin alphabet is used for non-exotic sounds, these sounds may be written differently; English sh = French ch = German sch = Italian sc(i) = Scandinavian = sj; French u = German ü  = Scandinavian y; English y = German, Dutch, Scandinavian and latinised Slavic j, etc.
2) Interpretation and representation of exotic phonology.
    a) To a speaker of French, Spanish, Dutch or southern Italian, the difference between p  t  k and b  d  g at the beginning of a stressed syllable has to do with use of the vocal chords (voicing). To a speaker of more or less standard English or German, the difference is mainly one of force (aspiration), while voicing is of secondary importance. Thus to an anglophone, a Spanish pronunciation of the words «big» and «pig» spoken in isolation may be indistinguishable (both sounding like «big»). The sounds represented by Pinyin p  t  k (also ch  c and q) are aspirated; the sounds represented by Pinyin b  d  g (also zh  z and j) are not aspirated and not voiced either. (In other words they are similar to the de-voiced b  d  g sounds in the English words «spit», «stand», and «skill».). Thus to many Europeans, including certain historical Englishmen, the idea that the difference between the letters p  t  k and b  d  g should be one of voicing rather than aspiration leads to considering  p  p'  t  t'  k  k' a more appropriate representation of the relevant sounds in Pekinese than b  p  d  t  g k. (Through a related logic, English pack ought to be spelled p'ack.)
    b) The two sets of sounds that Pinyin writes as zh  ch  sh and j  q  x: to the speakers of many languages, both sets may seem to be somewhat oddly pronounced versions of English j  ch  sh. To the native ear however the two are very different. Zh  ch  sh are retroflexes (the tongue is in about the same position as for Irish or North American -r), while j  q  x are semi-palatals (tongue positioned between German «ich» and German -isch). J  q  x can only be followed by a high vowel (i or ü), zh  ch  sh only by the other vowels. Wade-Giles, with the exception of its hs (= Pinyin x) uses the same letters (ch and ch') for both retroflexes and semi-palatals. EFEO treats the semi-palatals as mentioned below, and Lessing-Othmer differentiates two of the three in a manner similar to Hanyu Pinyin.
    c) The finals that Pinyin writes as -i in the syllables ji qi xi  / zhi  chi  shi  / zi  ci  si  are three distinct sounds. In the first set, -i is [i], in the second set it is an apical retroflex vowel, and in the third set it is an apical dental vowel. The distinctions have been represented through a great variety of means.
    d) The Pinyin initial r- is given in many other systems as j because at one time (and still now in some areas of the North) the sound was -- aside from being a retroflex -- very fricative and thus impressionistically similar to French j.
3) Historical or areal linguistics: The various transcription systems are not necessarily transcribing the same thing. Since around the mid-1920s Standard Chinese has been based on the phonology of Pekinese; the GMD and Stalinism-Maoism (the so-called «Communists») have been in complete agreement on this point  (the latter, since the early 1950's.) But Beila, EFEO, Postal, and  -- to a more limited extent -- even Wade-Giles are based on a wider pronunciation spectrum than 20th century Pekinese. This manifests mainly in correlates of Pinyin e and correlates of Pinyin j  q  x. In Pinyin there can be no such syllables as ko or gian or zian; they would represent sub-standard pronunciation. But in  Wade-Giles, Lessing-Othmer, EFEO and Beila, the monophthong that Pinyin has as e is written o in a majority of case and e in a minority of cases. Likewise, the j  q  x of today's Pekinese is a coalescence of two earlier sets of initials (which in some areas even of the North are still distinguished), and this is the reason for the two-dimensional treatment of the Pekinese semi-palatals as Beila  g  k  x (x = h) vs. z  c  s and EFEO k  k'  h vs. ts  ts'  s. This is also the cause behind the Postal System's plethora of ki and tsi where Wade-Giles has chi  (or ch'i). There are also differences as to how various transcriptions treat -eng when preceeded by w, b, p, m, or f; another possibility is -ong (= Beila's -ung). [back]

 

Email
[prev.] [index] [top]

Email in English, Deutsch, Français, Hànwén, or Italiano to han - sinistra.net


Click here to see the initials and finals in IPA and present Russian system.

If you have GB (Simplified Chinese) fonts, also see Against the Myth of the Russian-Cyrillic Origin of Certain Pinyin Letters.


you arrived from:

pagecolour: [to the top]